Were Bonnie and Clyde Real Characters?

Last Updated: October 24th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

Bonnie and Clyde. They died nearly 90 years ago, but there are still references made to their lives, their love story is still being told, and movies are still being made.

Bonnie and Clyde together
Photo of Bonnie and Clyde together from a newspaper following their death

Did this infamous couple actually live? Or are they like the fictional characters of Jack and Rose of the Titanic movie?

One thing is certain- Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were very real people who lived during dangerous times.

Is Bonnie and Clyde a True Story? Is the Story Based on True Events?

Yes, Bonnie and Clyde were real people who lived a very short but fast-paced life filled with violence and crime.

Photo of Bonnie Parker with short description
Photo of Bonnie Parker

Bonnie was a poor girl from Dallas, Texas, who wrote poetry and worked part-time as a waitress. She was bored with life and apparently was looking for some excitement.

Clyde was a small-time thief who also came from a poor family in Dallas. He hated being poor and wanted to be famous someday. (Read more on did Bonnie and Clyde give to the poor )

Clyde Barrow in front of his car
Clyde Barrow in front of his car

While Clyde had already had run-ins with the police for not returning a rental car on time and stealing turkeys with his brother Buck, he was a small time thief who had not committed murder at the time he met Bonnie Parker.

This couple met in 1930. Bonnie was 19 and already married to a murderer who was in prison. Clyde was 21 and wasn’t married, but soon after meeting Bonnie, he went to prison for burglary.

Bonnie smuggled a gun to Clyde, who used it to escape. It didn’t end well since Clyde was quickly rearrested. He was paroled in February 1932 and headed straight for Bonnie’s house.

Bonnie and Clyde began their life of crime right away. Eventually, they were suspected of killing at least 13 people and robbing banks and other stores in several states, almost always in a stolen car.

Why were Bonnie and Clyde Idolized and Considered Heroes?

Did Bonnie Really Love Clyde?

This question will never be answered since both parties are dead.

Bonnie was married when she met Clyde Barrow, but she never bothered to divorce her husband Roy Thornton. In fact, she was still wearing her wedding ring when she was shot to death and had a tattoo on her inner thigh of two intersecting hearts with the names Bonnie and Roy inside them.

Related Topic:  Bonnie and Clyde Cause of Death

Considering that Bonnie and Clyde were busy stealing cars and robbing stores, perhaps she thought that taking time out to divorce Roy wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

Wanted couple Bonnie and Clyde in newspaper
Wanted couple Bonnie and Clyde in newspaper

Perhaps she loved Roy and didn’t want to marry Clyde Barrow.

A peek into Bonnie’s diary shows that she did love her husband, at least for a few years, before she discovered that he was cheating on her. She wrote that she loved and missed Roy but literally, “Let All Men Go to Hell” seemed to be her motto.

Then she met Clyde. Two years after telling men to go to hell, Bonnie wrote that it was love at first sight. She didn’t write after that, but she also never removed the wedding ring from her hand and died wearing Thornton’s wedding ring.

Bonnie may have thought that she and Clyde would have a “common-law marriage” and the ring was really a show of her love for Clyde.

You can find a great many photos with Bonnie hugging Clyde or sitting on his lap, but whether this was for show, or she really loved him, only Bonnie Parker knew for certain.

What Were Bonnie and Clyde’s Real Names?

Bonnie was born Bonnie Elizabeth Parker. She was born in Rowena, Texas, in 1910.

Clyde was born Clyde Chestnut Barrow. He often used the middle name Champion, rather than Chestnut, presumably because he thought it sounded more fitting.

Did Prison Change Bonnie and Clyde?

Back at a time when prisons were horrible places to be and the people there had virtually no rights, the prison that Clyde Barrow went to for burglary was considered one of the worst of the worst of all prisons.

Photo of Bonnie and Clyde in a Wanted poster
Photo of Bonnie and Clyde in a Wanted poster

Clyde was sent to Eastham Prison Farm, which, despite the pretty name, was nothing at all like a farm. People who knew Clyde said that he went into prison “a schoolboy” but came out more like a rattlesnake.

Prison guards were known to beat prisoners for little or no reason, and Clyde was no exception, but it was the beatings and sexual abuse from another inmate that drove Clyde to commit murder.

Clyde beat his attacker to death in the bathroom with a metal pipe. Another inmate, who was already serving a life sentence, offered to take the rap.

Clyde never spoke to anyone about what happened in prison, but he did talk about a plan at one point that involved getting a lot of guns and shooting all the guards at Eastham prison farm.

Bonnie Parker
Photo of Bonnie Parker

Bonnie also spent some time in jail for being Clyde’s accomplice. While Bonnie appeared to escape the abuse that Clyde endured, friends say that she came out a different person.

In her poetry, Bonnie appears to both blame Clyde for her being in jail to begin with, while at the same time saying that nothing would tear them apart.

A Dallas grand jury decided that no woman would voluntarily go with a criminal to commit crimes and that Bonnie must have been confused or was lied to. They released her from prison, and Bonnie immediately rejoined Clyde.

Is the Highwaymen a True Story?

Photo of law enforcers who ambushed Bonnie and Clyde
Photo of law enforcers who ambushed Bonnie and Clyde

For the most part yes, it is a true story.

Of course, all movies tend to embellish stories to make them seem more exciting, but this story is told from the view of the two Texas rangers who tracked down Bonnie and Clyde.

It’s true that Hamer and Gault were called back from retirement to help track this duo, and it was Hamer (Kevin Costner) who specifically asked for his old partner to help him.

The film opens with a daring prison break organized by Bonnie and Clyde. This is a true part of the story. It happened at the Eastham prison where Clyde had been held, and it occurred in 1934.

While the film shows Hamer and Gault chasing Bonnie and Clyde in their cars, only minutes behind them in many scenes, this part wasn’t factual. The first time the officers spotted the couple was the day they opened fire and killed them.

Did Bonnie and Clyde Really Kill Two Police Officers on Easter Sunday?

Yes, they did.

While Easter Sunday is considered by many to be one of the holiest days of the Christian religion, Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree included killing these two officers in cold blood.

Clyde Barrow
Photo of Clyde Barrow

It’s possible that this pair never realized that it was Easter Sunday. Even if they did, it’s doubtful that they cared.

In their hurry to get on with their lives, Bonnie and Clyde killed these officers and left them by the side of the road without a second thought.

Why Did Bonnie and Clyde Limp When They Walked?

When Clyde Barrow was in that infamous Eastham prison farm, he attempted to get moved to another facility, away from the man raping him, by cutting off two toes.

It is not known whether Clyde did the work himself or if another inmate helped, but the tactic didn’t work.

Not only was Clyde forced to stay in that prison, but he also had a limp that would last him the rest of his life.

Bonnie also limped, but that wasn’t until later in the Bonnie and Clyde story. At some point during their crime spree in Texas, Clyde crashed one of their stolen cars. The battery either broke or exploded on Bonnie’s leg, causing severe burns that gave her a limp.

Did Bonnie and Clyde Capture Frank Hamer at Some Point?

No, that never happened.

In the 1967 film with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, one scene shows what appears to be a bumbling, not very bright Frank Hamer being kidnapped by the couple.

Headline on the death of Bonnie and Clyde
Headline on the death of Bonnie and Clyde

They tie up Frank, take what would be considered old-fashioned selfies with him using a camera. Bonnie puts an affectionate hand on his chest, and Clyde is smiling at the camera, but the fact remains that this scene never happened

In fact, Frank Hamer’s widow was so upset by the portrayal of her husband as some kind of schmuck that she sued Warner Brothers and won an out-of-court settlement.

Hamer joined the Texas Rangers in 1900 and spent a lot of his time shooting it out with criminals from the back of a horse.

It’s reported that Hamer shot and killed 53 criminals in his time, so the thought that he was somehow a less than competent lawman really upset his surviving relatives.

Was Bonnie Parker a Poet?

Wanted Poster of Bonnie and Clyde
Wanted Poster of Bonnie and Clyde with a verse from a poem by Bonnie Parker. This is displayed in Buffalo Bill’s Casino

She may not have been a published poet, but Bonnie Parker wrote poetry frequently.

She’s known for writing poems about her love for Clyde and wrote many other poems while she was in prison, including her infamous “Suicide Sal” which says in part:

“Not long ago I read in the paper, That a gal on the East Side got “hot” And when the smoke finally retreated, Two of gangdom were found “on the spot”. It related the colorful story Of a “jilted gangster gal” Two days later, a “sub-gun” ended The story of “Suicide Sal”.”

Bonnie even wrote one where she seemed to have a premonition of what would happen to them:

“They don’t think they’re too smart or desperate they know that the law always wins. They’ve been shot at before; but they do not ignore, that death is the wages of sin. Some day they’ll go down together they’ll bury them side by side. To few it’ll be grief, to the law a relief but it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.”

Not as many people are aware that Clyde also took a stab at poetry, possibly because Bonnie was into it.

Clyde's attempts at poetry

Here’s one of Clyde’s attempts at poetry (including the grammatical mistakes):

“We donte want to hurt annyone

but we have to steal to eat

and if its a shootout to live

then thats the way it will have to bee.”

Bonnie seems to understand what will happen to the couple in the end, but in this poem, Clyde makes the pair sound like they are simply trying to survive and aren’t dangerous at all.

What Is the “Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome”?

This is where people are sexually attracted to those who commit crimes, especially murders.

The scientific name is hybristophilia, but Bonnie and Clyde syndrome is easier to say.

Statue of Bonnie and Clyde in Buffalo Bill's Casino
Statue of Bonnie and Clyde in Buffalo Bill’s Casino

This is a fairly common phenomenon. Mass murderers such as Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez had a huge following of women who found these criminal superstars attractive.

Some even went so far as to marry these criminals, despite knowing full well what they did.

Final Thoughts

There is plenty of evidence to show that Bonnie and Clyde were real people who were most likely in love but were absolutely ruthless murderers.

In the public enemy era of the 1920s and 1930s, Bonnie and Clyde made the top of the list. Their bloody death car is still on display in casinos outside Las Vegas, where it remains a popular attraction.

Bonnie and Clyde will go down in American history as violent criminals who got what they deserved in the end.

Were Bonnie and Clyde Real Characters?
Were Bonnie and Clyde Real Characters?
If you’ve seen Bonnie & Clyde movies about their lives, you might wonder if they were real people or simply props to tell the story of the times of the 1920s and 30s.
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